Review & Photos | DRKWAV | Washington D.C.

By Team JamBase Mar 19, 2015 1:30 pm PDT

Words and Images by: S. Balaji Mani

DRKWAV :: 3.07.15 :: The Hamilton :: Washington, DC

If you’re at all into improvisation, forward-thinking jazz and dancing –and if on top of all of that you’ve been an explorer of the fringes of the jamband scene — then you’ve likely run into one of Skerik’s projects, perhaps without even knowing the prolific saxophonist behind groups like Critter’s Buggin’ and Garage A Trois. With DRKWAV, Skerik has joined forces in a trio with keyboardist John Medeski and drummer Adam Deitch. While Medeski and Deitch each boast impressive resumés of their own, it’s Skerik who drives DRKWAV behind his mad-scientist approach to producing sound.

When Skerik and Co. mounted their positions on stage, the audience immediately knew it was in for an evening of weird as Medeski, who had just a couple months ago treated a similar DC crowd to an upbeat jazz experience with Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood, introduced more sinister chords for the ominous opener to the DRKWAV set. Skerik, essentially speaking in tongues, processed indecipherable vocals through the microphone on his sax, as he would do frequently throughout the evening. The ambient noise petered out with a simple organ riff, and was ultimately concluded by Deitch’s entrance, establishing a laid-back landscape for Skerik’s intermittent trills.

At shows where you know the musicians are improvising, it’s always fascinating to watch individual audience members. The Hamilton saw perhaps one of its most eclectic audiences last week. Well-dressed professional couples filed in alongside twenty-something males in faded Lettuce (Deitch’s more well-known gig) t-shirts, a dichotomy further highlighted by the the venue’s setup. The Hamilton traditionally seats guests at candle-lit tables on three levels, but for DRKWAV the tables were stowed away in favor of a makeshift “floor” area. The younger crowd danced up front, blocking visibility of the stage for those seated on the next level up.

The band cranked out an hour and forty minutes of improvisation, only very rarely weaving in trace elements from their debut release, The Purge (Royal Potato Family). The band moved swiftly between the lush soundscapes you expect at shows like these and the more groove-oriented sections, the latter of which were precisely divided by the sharp tones of Deitch’s snare. Skerik embellished the noisier portions of the show with a synthesizer controlled by an iPad. The grooves with relatable beats had the entire audience, young and old, entranced. However, those moments were fleeting and just as the beat locked in, Skerik abandoned the theme and lead the band to new territory. The slow sections lost the attention of some people in the audience, but they were regularly reeled back in when the music was framed by the drumkit.

Having somewhat recently recorded new material with Critter’s Buggin’, Skerik is definitely in a creative frenzy right now, and is passionate about his project with Medeski and Deitch. While some folks leaving the venue argued what DRKWAV does is self-indulgent and meandering, it’s a little too soon to write them off. There’s no real template for what a DRKWAV show should be, and the moments of pure interlocking funk were worth the sometimes difficult journey it took to achieve them.

While it’s been said by many artists, seeing a show like the one DRKWAV puts on reminds me of a poignant observation Page McConnell of Phish made in the late 1990’s documentary Bittersweet Motel -that if you persevere in your improvisation, eventually you get to these places you would have never been able to discover.

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